Japan: A Growing Market for Jeep
According to Bunyusha Sales Manager Nubuhiro Yanagihara, about 40% of the Let’s Go 4WD readers who own trucks have customized 4x4s that are typically upgraded with tires, wheels, exhaust systems, exterior upgrades and lift kits.
Jeep Wranglers are increasingly popular globally, and that translates into export opportunities for U.S. manufacturers of aftermarket products for the iconic 4x4s. This article (focused on the Jeep market in Japan) is the first in a series to look at the top export markets for popular U.S. models. Japan is an affluent island nation of 126 million and is the world’s third-largest passenger vehicle market. It is also the fourth-largest overseas Wrangler market for FCA.
We talked with Bunyusha media house, based in Tokyo, which publishes a series of vehicle enthusiast titles available both in print and online. Its offerings include Let’s Go 4WD and American Car magazines. Bunyusha Sales Manager Nubuhiro Yanagihara noted that the draw among the readers of his 4x4 title (averaging age 30) are fans of customized 4WDs or SUVs. Some of them already own 4x4s, and others hope to do so one day.
SEMA News was curious about the readership for publications about 4x4s and American vehicles in Japan, and it turns out that there are titles—and readers—for an unimaginable number of niche car magazines. One of the larger bookstores in Japan—Tsutaya—is famous for no less than 75 car titles available to enthusiasts at any one time.
Let’s Go 4WD covers lifted trucks, with articles ranging from new models and suspension equipment to the latest gatherings and 4WD shows.
There’s something for everyone, from Dekotora (which translates to “decorated truck”—in this case, heavy-duty trucks) to magazines about supercars, customized “kei” cars (mini cars designed to fit Japan’s narrow, crowded streets), drifting, and every make and style, including Bippu (modified Japanese luxury cars) and classic cars. So the presence of an off-road title, such as Let’s Go 4WD that regularly covers the Jeep Wrangler, may be a little less surprising even in a country dominated by Japanese makes (95% of all vehicles sold) and the popularity of the “kei” cars that capture 40% of annual passenger vehicle sales. It becomes just another niche title.
We inquired about Yanagihara’s typical reader, and he told us that about 40% of the readers who own trucks have customized 4x4s that are typically upgraded with tires, wheels, exhaust systems, exterior upgrades and lift kits. Let’s Go 4WD covers lifted trucks, with articles ranging from new models and suspension equipment to the latest gatherings and 4WD shows. The magazine covers models such as the Suzuki Jimny, the Toyota Land Cruiser and Jeep Wranglers. The latter, Yanagihara said, have become much more popular in recent years.
Jeep’s sales totaled 13,360 in 2019, and 5,000 of those were Jeep Wranglers. That’s not a huge number, but it represents steady growth over the past decade to become the fourth-largest global Wrangler market, trailing the United States, Canada and China. Overall Jeep sales in Japan last year grew 16%—in a passenger-vehicle market that was down 1.5% from the previous year.
Bunyusha media house publishes a series of vehicle enthusiast titles available both in print and online, including Let’s Go American Car magazine.
Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer for FCA, commented recently that one of the company’s key strategic goals is to find a way to resonate with a global audience—and it seems to be working, at least in Japan. Last year, the Wrangler was named one of the top 10 cars in that country by a panel of journalists at the Japan Car of the Year competition. The judging panel pointed out the special emotions evoked by the Wrangler, noting that “traveling in a Wrangler allows you to [step] into a place like a road without a path and see something that you have never seen before. It’s a great romance for many who want to experience extraordinary things. The uniqueness of a car that shapes the dreams that everyone holds in their hearts, big and small, has become even brighter. By riding in a Wrangler, you can broaden your life and enjoy variety, from city rides to mountain roads.”
But do most Japanese actually take their Wranglers off-road?
“Many of them enjoy leisure trips, so they drive a long distance if there’s any chance,” Yanagihara said. “However, they don’t typically take the vehicles off-road, although they’re interested in doing so.”
FCA has been growing its distribution network recently, opening its 80th outlet and planning 10 additional dealerships within the next several years.
SEMA News thanks the U.S. Commercial Service in Japan for assisting with this story. Yu Ohashi, commercial assistant with the U.S. Consulate General in Osaka, covers the automotive sector and is an excellent contact for U.S. companies interested in exploring export opportunities in Japan. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. For more information on SEMA’s international resources and programs visit www.sema.org/international or email firstname.lastname@example.org.